Background

The NSW Government commenced its reform of the process of approving new coal seam gas (CSG) projects in October 2013 by establishing CSG exclusion zones in existing residential zones and in the North West and South West growth centres in Sydney.

At the same time, the 'Gateway Panel' was established. Before a development application is lodged, an independent assessment must be now be carried out of the impact of certain mining projects on strategic agricultural land 

The final stage to these reforms were implemented on 28 January 2014, when further amendments were made to State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum and Extractive Industries) 2007. These amendments:

  • Expand the CSG exclusion zones so that they now include certain rural villages and agricultural land.

  • Increase the application of the Gateway process so that it now applies Statewide and not just to land within the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions.

Expansion of CSG exclusion zones The CSG exclusion zones now include:

  • Land within a residential zone and land within 2 km of such land (determined by the zoning of the land).

  • Future residential growth area land and land within 2 km of such land (as identified on the Future Residential Growth Areas Land Map). Five additional areas in the Gosford and Great Lakes local government areas now also fall in this category.

  • Seven rural villages that were identified as falling within the criteria set by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, but which were not zoned residential and land within 2 km of those villages (as identified on the Additional Rural Village Land Map).

  • Critical industry cluster (CIC) land (as identified on the Strategic Agricultural Land Map). Two CICs were identified in the Upper Hunter as part of the 2012 Strategic Regional Land Use Plan. The CICs covered horse breeding and viticultural land. The areas of these CICs have been revised and increased by 22,000 ha with respect to the horse breeding cluster, and minimally reduced by 3,000ha for the viticulture cluster.

All new CSG activities are prohibited on land within the CSG exclusion zones, which now include 2.7 million hectares across NSW. A map of the affected land can be found here.

The new prohibition against carrying out CSG development does not apply to CSG projects for which consents or project approvals are already in place (including transitional Part 3A projects for which a concept approval is in place) provided that the development is carried out in accordance with the development consent or project approval.

Increase in application of Gateway process The Gateway process must be followed in relation to mining or petroleum development proposed to be carried out on land that has been identified as biophysical strategic agricultural land.  The process involves the referral of a proposal to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee and the Minister for Primary Industry for advice regarding impact on water resources. The advice received will be considered when determining whether to issue an unconditional Gateway Certificate, which certifies that the project does meet certain criteria, of conditionally, which certifies that the project does not meet those criteria. 

Land across the State has now been assessed to determine what land qualifies as biophysical strategic agricultural land and additional 1 million ha of the most valuable farming land has now been identified as being biophysical strategic agricultural land. Any mining or petroleum development (including any CSG development) proposed on this biophysical strategic agricultural land must now go through the Gateway process prior to a development application being lodged.

Implications

NSW now has the most rigorous CSG controls in Australia. The NSW Government says that it has struck the right balance to ensure that communities, agricultural and resource development can co-exist and that, industry now has some certainty as to where future projects may proceed. Whether or not that is the case will, however, depend upon how comfortable the industry feels in investing in potential CSG projects when authorities retain the ability to rezone land as residential or identify land as 'future residential growth', 'rural village' or CIC.